Skip to content

Ethiopia Stolen Elections

Ethiopia: Why Can’t We Just Get Along?

Alemayehu G. Mariam

A Comedy of Errors: (Act I)

Rodney King’s videotaped brutal beating by members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) eventually triggered the L.A. riots of 1992. Rodney made a public appearance on the third day of the anarchy and pleaded in his inimitable style:

People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we stop making it, making it horrible for the older people and the kids? It’s just not right…. Let’s try to work it out.

I never thought I would appeal to Rodney King for political wisdom and insight in seeking an end to the internecine warfare in the Ethiopian opposition and plead for reconciliation, understanding and common sense. True, Rodney King is no Martin King, but in this instance I am going to invoke Rodney while pleading Martin to get Ethiopia’s opposition leaders to re-think and re-examine their strategy of mutual assured destruction (MAD).

It was amusing to read this past week a story about criminal charges filed against one faction of the Unity and Democracy Party [UDJ] (Andenet) by another faction of the same party in Ethiopia. Charged with disturbing the peace this past April are some of the prominent leaders and members of the UDJ. It is alleged that the defendants threw rocks at the party office and created disturbances while party members worked inside. Several witnesses testified for the prosecution at a hearing and the matter was continued to a later date.

There had been prior confrontations between UDJ members. In late 2009 when UDJ held its Extraordinary Congress at the Imperial Hotel, it was alleged that certain “expelled” members had attempted to disrupt the meetings. The police were reportedly called to intervene, but failed to show up. The meeting was cancelled and there were no prosecutions. But state-controlled television was on hand to record the bizarre spectacle for broadcast.

I am sure the whole zany rock-throwing affair gave dictator-in-chief Meles Zenawi and his crew much needed comic relief in the weeks before the May 2010 “election”. Today, Zenawi watches a command performance opera buffa of some of the champions of the Ethiopian opposition duking it out in kangaroo court. It is humiliating and embarrassing for many of us to see some of the giants of the opposition who have sacrificed so much of themselves pointing accusatory fingers at each other in the Zenawi’s Halls of Injustice. Of course, one would have expected all opposition leaders to get the message after the “election” and get their acts together. After all, Zenawi won by 99.6 percent, and they “lost” by 100 percent. But that is another matter. I only wish the accusers and the accused could see themselves from the outside as they spar in the three-ring circus of Zenawi’s kangaroo court.

Master Stroke of Public Relations (Act II)

The timing of the UDJ “prosecution” is curious, to say the least. The final report of the European Union Election Observation Mission Team [EU EOM] is expected to be released sometime in September. Staging a three-ring kangaroo circus over a rock-throwing incident to coincide with the release of the EU EOM report is a master stroke of public relations. It provides a nice distraction to the findings and conclusions of the forthcoming report. The criminal case will be dragged out to coincide with the release of the report and cushion the hard landing Zenawi is going to have in the report. We already know from the from the preliminary statements of EU EOM that the May 2010 “election” “failed to provide a level playing field”. Major donor governments have declared the election “does not meet international standards”. That is just diplomatic-speak for a stolen election. Regardless of what the final report will document, the incontrovertible fact is that an “election” that gave Zenawi a victory of 99.6 percent is not an election; it is a travesty of election.

But the sting of the EU EOM report could be lessened and world attention distracted by depicting opposition leaders as a bunch of bumbling and bungling lightweights (or worse) who are not only incapable of leading the country but are spending their time like children throwing rocks at each other. It is a brilliant public relations move by Zenawi to make a complete laughing stock out of some of the most respected leaders of the opposition. Let us just watch Zenawi showcasing the “rock throwers” freak show in his kangaroo court circus as the release date for the EU EOM report draws near: “Come one, come all to the greatest show in Ethiopia! Marvel and thrill at the rock-throwing Ethiopian opposition leaders! Stare in awe… Do you want these guys to run the country!?” Barnum and Bailey never had so much fun!

Justice in Kangaroo Court? (Act III)

Time was that opposition leaders were dragged in chains into kangaroo court to become victims of injustice. Some of the UDJ members in this criminal case were sentenced together to long prison terms in kangaroo court not long ago and served nearly two years before being “pardoned”. It is an eerie feeling to see them now standing on their hind legs pointing accusatory fingers at each other. UDJ members going to kangaroo court to seek justice is like Rodney King going before LAPD’s Internal Affairs to press charges against the cops who beat him to a pulp. It just makes no sense. I am dismayed and embarrassed by the sight of UDJ members brawling in a kangaroo cage match as Zenawi calls the count. What a low-down dirty shame for all whoare toiling for democracy, human rights and justice in Ethiopia to view this spectacle. What comic relief for Zenawi and his crew. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

I want to laugh too, but it hurts to laugh. In fact, I would like to cry at the sight of these distinguished members of the opposition wagging fingers and exchanging verbal missiles in kangaroo court. What were they thinking?

But to add humiliation to a crying shame, I agonize over the possible outcomes of the criminal case. If the UDJ defendants are convicted and sentenced to jail, who wins? Zenawi does. He will step up to the podium and announce to the world that his justice system worked “fairly” and the criminal wrongdoers were held to account. He can walk up to his Western donors (a/k/a partners-in-crime) and smugly say, “Behold my opposition (chuckle)! See real justice at work!”

Who loses if they are convicted? The opposition does. The people will shake their collective heads in dismay and disbelief and ask: “What were they thinking? Why can’t they get along? If they can’t get along out of power, how could they get along if they get into power?”
Who wins if the UDJ defendants are acquitted? Zenawi does. He can show the world that justice was served in his court with impartiality and the innocent set free. Who loses if they are acquitted? The opposition does. The people will scratch their collective heads and ask: “Why did they do it? Was it worth their humiliation in kangaroo court?” In short, the kangaroo court criminal case is a win-win for Zenawi, and a lose-lose for the opposition!

But there is a less obvious conclusion to be drawn to the credit of the UDJ members. In the heat of the moment, certain party members may or may not have thrown rocks or exchanged harsh words. But to their collective credit, there was no shooting or extreme violence, as it often happens among opposition elements in so many parts of Africa. The UDJ members did not take to street justice to resolve their disagreements; they went to court (admittedly the kangaroo variety). I applaud them for that. They had the right idea, but went to the wrong place. Courts of law (in contrast to kangaroo courts) are the proper and civilized place to bring disputes for resolution. Independent judges (in contrast to hacks wearing judicial robes) can properly administer justice impartially and neutrally.

But the proper place for resolution of political disputes among Ethiopia’s opposition is never in kangaroo court, but in intra- and inter-organizational mediation and reconciliation processes or other civil society institutions. Throwing rocks or vilifying each other with abusive words is never justified. They do not need to beat each other up; they need to stand together and cover each other’s back. They need to shield each other from the ceaseless barrages of the slings and arrows of an outrageous dictatorship.

So I am going to “sermonize” a little bit here. If the bickering, name calling, rock throwing and all the other silly stuff continues, the opposition will end up in mutual assured destruction as the dictators look on with glee. It is mad to follow the path of MAD. The opposition has far too many important tasks to accomplish. They have already lost precious time in internal strife and fragmentation; they need to be doing more by way of uniting, mobilizing, motivating and inspiring the people with their ideas and plans. The people want to hear messages of hope and redemption from opposition leaders, not accusations and recriminations. The people want to be assured that it is possible, with dedication and effort, to overcome the seemingly insurmountable mountain of dictatorship; that change, peaceful democratic change, is possible and the people themselves hold their destiny in their collective hands. The people want to be shown these possibilities through leadership examples of optimism, dedication, tolerance, tenacity and patriotic zeal. That is the way to do it!

The kind of legal warfare we see in kangaroo court with opposition leaders and members is demoralizing; it is not uplifting for the people. It robs the people of their faith in the future and saps their energy, enthusiasm and hopes for democracy. Opposition leaders should be less concerned about their partisan interests and more engaged in addressing the needs of the masses of unemployed youth, the urban poor that have little to eat; the poor farmers scratching the earth for seedlings; the masses of women who face domestic violence daily; the educated professionals who can barely eke out an existence on salaries that are gobbled up by stratospheric inflation and the state workers who are forced to supplement their incomes by payments under the table. These people are looking for visionary leadership. They want to see clear-thinking and dignified opposition leaders charting the course to a better future. They do not want to see opposition leaders brawling in freak shows in a kangaroo circus court. Stated simply, opposition leaders and parties need consolidation, not fragmentation; they need reconciliation not accusation and recrimination.

Can’t We Just Get Along? (Act IV)

I see no need for opposition leaders to act in a vaudevillian comedy show directed by Zenawi. That is why I am asking them to develop and adopt a voluntary “code of conduct” to govern their relationships as they face a formidable common adversary. Such a code should address matters of civility, tolerance of dissent, non-use of inflammatory language, avoidance of personality clashes, constructive criticism of programs and policies, avoidance of personal attacks, establishment of formal and informal dispute resolution mechanisms, grievance complaint procedures and so on. Under no circumstances should they air their “dirty political laundry” in kangaroo court.

Political leaders and followers who are truly committed to democracy and human rights and work for the betterment of the Ethiopian people need to get along with each other and cooperate for a common purpose. They do not need to agree with each other on all issues or even the majority of issues. It is not even necessary for them to socialize and hang out together; but it is mandatory that they find effective ways of collaboration to advance their common causes of democracy, human rights, accountability, transparency and the rule of law.
Working together requires creating a harmonious working relationship founded on mutual respect, tolerance and understanding. If there are differences on issues, as there should be, all effort must be exerted to discuss and resolve them without degenerating into personal attacks. If issues cannot be resolved, it is best to agree to disagree and move on with other issues.

Teamwork and collegiality among opposition leaders are essential if dictatorship is to be defeated and real democracy established in Ethiopia. When opposition leaders attack and disrespect each other, they not only make themselves laughing stocks for the dictator and his crew but also look silly in the eyes of the public and set a bad example. The kind of dysfunctionality that is visible in the opposition today is not only pathetic but also harmful to the prospects of democracy in the future. Opposition leaders need to answer a simple question: How can they expect to work collaboratively in the interests of the country and fight dictatorship when they have hardened partisan politics among themselves so much? The road of hardened partisan politics leads to MAD. They may have been in separate boats before the May “election”, but now they are all in the same boat cruising up that famous creek without a paddle.

It is time now to transition to the politics of multi-partisanship, cooperation and collaboration. Practically, this means advancing the interests of the people over partisan politics or advancement of one’s agenda, status, career or ambitions. It means showing the people that the opposition is NOT the flip side of the ruling dictatorship. Stated simply, the people need to be reassured that in the opposition they are not swapping Tweedledee for Tweedledum. Democracy and dictatorship are not interchangeable. The most effective way of getting the trust and support fo the people is by proving to them what it means to work together harmoniously while opposition leaders and parties are on the outside, and before they have tasted the sweet intoxicating nectar of power.

That’s why I pose some simple questions to Ethiopia’s opposition leaders: “Why can’t you all just get along? Can you stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids? It’s just not right…. Why can’t you try to work it out?”

As the old saying goes, “Yesterday is gone and tomorrow is not ours, what we have is today.” Can we all begin to mend fences today and come together not only to oppose and defeat an ephemeral dictatorship, but most importantly, to put our collective shoulders to the grind wheel and work for democracy, justice and human rights in Ethiopia? Can we all get along!


Ethiopia at the Crossroads of History

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

There is an old morality tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes about a king who is so self-absorbed, vainglorious and obsessed with his appearance that he hired two suit makers and gave them vast amounts of money to sew him the finest silk robes. They agreed to make the robes but warned the king that the types of robes they make are invisible to anyone who is unfit for their official position or hopelessly stupid. As they set out to sew their make-believe robes, the king and his ministers would drop in from time to time and offer their admiration for the suit makers’ craftsmanship of the invisible robes. None would dare challenge the suit makers afraid of being called incompetent or stupid. Finally, the suit makers dressed the king in their pretend silk robe and marched him down the street with his courtiers to the applause and cheers of his obedient subjects. The people could see that the king was naked but were afraid to say so fearing his anger. A child in the crowd suddenly yelled out that the king is naked; and the crowd began chanting: “The king is naked!” The king cringed with shame and embarrassment, but held himself up proudly as he continued to walk naked in the royal procession.

The tale of the naked emperor is an apt allegory for the so-called Ethiopian election being held on May 23. The ruling regime in Ethiopia has been blowing its horn about an invisible “democratic election” for over a year. They brought in the best European “election” tailors to embroider the finest “election code of conduct.” They threatened, cajoled, bribed and withheld food aid from the people to force them out into the street and clap and ululate for them as they paraded themselves in their invisible majestic robe of democratic election. Some Western and African representatives volunteered to line up the streets cheerleading for the king. The European Union (EU) sent a delegation of 150 observers to observe 32 million voters vote at 43,000 polling stations in an election that was won by the ruling regime long before it was even conceived. The African Union (AU) deployed 60 observers to do the same in flagrant disregard of its own Elections Observation and Monitoring Guidelines, Section V (14). Both the EU and AU boogied down at the naked king’s parade with full knowledge that “the people who cast the votes (and observe the votes) decide nothing. The people who count the votes decide everything.”

Dictator Meles Zenawi prohibited diplomatic representatives from traveling outside the capital during the “election”. He told Al Jazeera a few days ago that it was a bad idea for diplomats to observe the elections because it was disapproved by the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), the Swedish organization which helped him devise the “election code of conduct”: “I know that some diplomats in Addis are offended when they are told they [can not go outside Addis Ababa], but I am sure [allowing them to travel] is not internationally [IDEA] accepted best practice.” That is simply not true! It is a verifiable fact that IDEA strongly encourages all individuals, organization and governments who conduct or are involved in elections to maintain openness, transparency and neutrality because “The public will measure the legitimacy of an election on the basis of both the actual integrity of its administration and the appearance of integrity of the election process.” IDEA emphatically urges “each person or organization using its code of conduct to apply it flexibly, together with good common sense, to meet the requirements of each situation.” By IDEA’s own standards, allowing the diplomats to observe would be “best practice” because they could help ensure and verify the integrity of the election process.

The fact of the matter is that we have witnessed an election in terrorem for the past year in which the ruling party has harassed, intimidated, threatened and inflicted violence against opposition party leaders and members. On April 13, 2010, Zenawi issued a thinly veiled threat to Ethiopian opposition leaders that he will hunt them out of their hiding places and burn them at the stake if they boycotted the May, 2010 “election”, or agitate the youth for political action.[1] Weeks before “election” day, the ruling regime mounted a sustained campaign of smear and fear, distortions and lies, fabrications and accusations and allegations and charges of incitement to violence, “acting against the constitution” and other malicious hyperbole and propaganda against opposition leaders. All this was manifestly intended to prepare public opinion (and the donor community) for the inevitable incapacitation, neutralization and paralysis of all opposition in Ethiopia in the post-“election” period. As usual, Western donors have covered their eyes with their hands pretending not to see, but peeking at this travesty of democracy between their fingers. They know the whole election farce is staged for their cynical amusement and to beg them later for more handouts. They have become willing collaborators in their own manipulation. So the king proudly marches down the boulevard to applause; but alas! he has no clothes.

Of course, the issue is not whether the emperor has clothes, but whether the people have clothes to cover their backs withered by two decades of dictatorship, enough food to quell the hunger in their stomachs, adequate shelter from the elements and enough oxygen of freedom to breath. In the final analysis, there is one and only one question of consequence in this “election”:

Are the people of Ethiopia better off today than they were 5 years ago?

Do Ethiopians have more food to eat today than they did five years ago? Is there less unemployment in the country today than five years ago? Less inflation? More health care? More press freedom? More human rights protections today than five years ago? Is there more accountability, transparency and openness in government today than five years ago? Do young Ethiopians today have more confidence in their future than they did five years ago? Do Ethiopia’s youth have more employment opportunities today than they did five years ago? More academic freedom in the universities? Do Ethiopians have more access to the vast universe of information available on the internet than they did five years ago? (On May 3, World Press Freedom Day, President Obama singled out Ethiopia as one of four countries in the world that have prevented their citizens from “gaining greater access than ever before to information through the Internet, cell phones and other forms of connective technologies.”) Do Ethiopians today have more confidence in their future, their rulers and public institutions than they did five years ago?

The answer is a resounding NO.

After 19 years of one-man, one-party rule, does the same crew of kleptocrats cling to power like barnacles to the sunken Ethiopian ship of state? Do the dictators continue to use more violence, intimidations, threats and arbitrary arrests and detentions against their opposition to maintain themselves in power? Do those who massacred 193 innocent protesters and wounded hundreds more after the 2005 elections still walk the streets free? Are the country’s prisons full of political prisoners? Are the members of the ruling party and their allies getting richer, and the masses growing hungrier and poorer everyday? Are the robbers who stole millions of dollars worth of gold bars from the national bank in broad daylight in 2007 still roam the streets free enjoying their loot? Is the environment more degraded today than it was five years ago? Is corruption so endemic in Ethiopia that the country for the last five years has been ranked at the very bottom of the International Corruption Index? Does Ethiopia still rank at the very bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index (in 2005 (169/177 countries; in 2009 (171/182) [2]?

The answer is a resounding YES!

The fact of the matter is that talking about elections in a police state is like talking about a fish riding a motorcycle. It is silly. It is sheer madness. [3]

But Ethiopia today stands at the crossroads of history; and as the old African saying goes, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.” At this crossroad, Ethiopians can choose to take the right way or the wrong way. The right way is the way of national reconciliation, compromise, mutual understanding and tolerance. The wrong way is the way of force, violence, brutality, threats, intimidation and persecution. Ethiopians can choose the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is to follow and live by the rule of law and ensure everyone’s human rights are respected and all are held to account for their actions and omissions. The hard way is the way of dictatorship, despotism, deceit and conceit. Ethiopians can take the high road or the low road. The high road is the way of morality, ethical conduct, common sense and compassion. The low road is the way of dishonesty, lies, distortions and trickery. We can take the road to somewhere or the road to nowhere. The road to somewhere take us to national unity, commonality of purpose, harmony, coalition-building and cooperation. The road to nowhere takes us to ethnic division and tribal conflict, irrational fear and hatred and needless violence and destruction. We can take the superhighway or the dirt road. The superhighway will take us on a wonderful journey to a brave new world of information, ideas and knowledge on the wings of modern technology. The dirt road has a one-way ticket to dictatorship, tyranny, darkness and ignorance. We can walk together on the united way or remain stranded on a divided highway.

Ultimately, we can choose the way of all our ancestors — the Ethiopian Way — or join the way of the ignoramuses who arrogantly proclaim that “if it is not my way, there ain’t no way but the highway.” We must choose the Ethiopian Way — the way of humanity, unity, solidarity, integrity, honesty, cordiality, empathy, fraternity and congeniality.

If we choose to take the Ethiopian Way, we must collectively make our roadmap to get us to our preferred destination. We will need to set the mileposts and detail out the rules of the road. We must brightly mark the “yield” and “stop” signs together with the “no crossing” and “danger” signs along the way. We must be prepared to take the “the road less traveled” to get to our destination. That is the road of tolerance, good will, broad-mindedness, patience and understanding. We must avoid the beaten path of personal attacks, hatred and prejudice, recriminations, accusations and pettiness. We can not begin a new journey along the Ethiopian Way with the old mindset: “If you don’t agree with me in everything, you are my enemy.” We must trade it in for a new spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood across ethnic, linguistic, class and regional lines. We must reinvent a new mentality that substitutes the concerns of ethnicity and partisanship with the needs of our basic humanity, our unity in our Ethiopian nationality and our personal authenticity.

Let us use this bogus election as the impetus for the development of a comprehensive political, economic, social and legal agenda for Ethiopia that is based on a compelling vision of a better future for this and coming generations. Let us cast off the shortsightedness and narrow partisanship of the past. Let us gather ideas from all segments of society — and not just from the intellectuals and the elites – and pursue them inclusively and aggressively with a common sense of purpose and destiny. If desperate times require desperate actions, times of great opportunity such as this one require quick, bold and determined action. Carpe diem! Let us seize the moment and set a new course for Ethiopia.

The future is bright for Ethiopia regardless of the already-won election of 2010. No doubt some will be disheartened and dispirited; but it is illogical to be disappointed about an “election” outcome that has always been a foregone conclusion. It is natural to anguish over the loss of such a great opportunity to plant the seeds of democracy in Ethiopia. But we must always be mindful of the fact that nothing will give the dictators greater pleasure than having us all depressed and dejected about their “victory” in this “election”. Their ardent wish is that we abandon and give up the struggle for the cause of democracy, freedom, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia. But they fail to grasp a simple fact: These causes are much larger and greater than any one election, one dictator, one party or one regime. These causes represent the quintessential, timeless and universal yearning of all humanity in recorded history. As the great Nelson Mandela said, “Let freedom reign. The sun never set on so glorious a human achievement.” We must never let the sun set on freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Ethiopia.

As for the “election”: Let us just say that it ain’t the votin’ that makes for a free and fair election. It is the countin’. We sure know who will be burning the midnight oil on May 23 counting, double-counting, triple- and quadruple-counting the same ballots to proclaim victory at the crack of dawn on May 24. This Ethiopian election caper aside, it has been said that a “politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation.” Let us all strive to develop in earnest the true attributes of genuine statesmanship and stateswomanship so that we may be able to help the next generation become Ethiopia’s Greatest Generation!

Free Birtukan Midekssa and all political prisoners in Ethiopia!

[3] See

(Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on,,, and other sites.)

Ethiopia: The Fire Next Time

Alemayehu G. Mariam

Encore performance!

It is the same two act play (farce) of May 2005. The stage is the same. The director is the same. The stagehands are the same. The script is the same. The players are the same stage veterans. The stagecraft (lighting, makeup, props) is the same. The audience is the same. Act I, last scene, “End Game”. (Kick the propaganda machine in overdrive and pump up the media volume! Ethiopian opposition leaders, enter stage right.)

On April 28, 2010, Reuters reported:

The Ethiopian opposition may provoke violence during the first national elections since a disputed 2005 poll ended with street riots and the jailing of politicians, the ruling party has said. The government said in 2005 that the violence was planned to force an unconstitutional change after a vote in which both sides claimed victory.”

On April 13, 2010, dictator Meles Zenawi issued a thinly veiled threat to Ethiopian opposition leaders that he will hunt them out of their hiding places and burn them at the stake if they boycotted the May, 2010 “election”, or agitate the youth for political action:

If my estimation is correct, some of you are walking this direction [boycotting the election] I think you are making a huge mistake because to light the fire and at the last [moment] to go into hiding, would not be good, because to light the fire and [be] behind it, and also to fight and use the blood of children, that would not be something that is useful.

It is plain to see that the political and “legal” stage is now set for a round-up of opposition leaders once official victory is declared over the already-won “election” scheduled for May 23. (How else could Zenawi make such arrogantly confident threats unless he is absolutely certain that he has already won the “election”?) A cascade of distortions, accusations and allegations of incitement to violence, charges of “acting against the constitution” and other malicious hyperbole are flooding the media as part of a calculated pre-emptive campaign of pre-“election” intimidation of opposition leaders, and in preparation of public opinion for the inevitable incapacitation, neutralization and paralysis of all opposition in Ethiopia in a post-“election” period.

Prof. Beyene Petros, an opposition party leader for the past 18 years, is the most recent victim of accusations of inciting violence. He is alleged to have said that “if the public is not happy with a government they can create some kind of problem, can protest and can bring down the government without elections.” He immediately rejected the allegations: “Violence was not implied at all in my argument. I was just talking about normal democratic process. They [the ruling regime] have been trying to find something in an effort to incriminate us… I spoke of a public that votes into and votes out of power, all through the ballot box. And that is mandated by the constitution. There was no incitement to violence.” Eskinder Nega, the distinguished and highly respected Ethiopian journalist who, together with his equally distinguished and internationally acclaimed journalist wife Serkalem Fasil, has long suffered at the hands of the ruling dictatorship, in his latest piece in the series “Letter from Ethiopia” described Beyene as “one reliable politician, by universal consensus, that sincerely abhors any prospect of violence.”

A few months ago, opposition Medrek-coalition leaders Gizachew Shiferwa and Gebru Asrat were accused of allegedly declaring that they will boycott the May 2010 “election”, drawing Zenawi’s ire and threats. They denied making any such declarations. Another Medrek leader, Seeye Abraha, is now a victim of a vilification campaign in Tembien district in Tigray where he is running for a parliamentary seat. Voters in Tembien are being told the reason they are getting only partial deliveries of foreign food aid is because Seeye has persuaded the Americans to cut back. Muktar Keder, head of the office of the ruling party, three days ago accused Seeye of “paving the way for violence” by allegedly stating that if he did not win in Tembien district, it meant the elections were rigged.

For the past year, Zenawi has repeatedly accused the opposition of bad faith in the international media: “The intent of these individuals is to try and discredit the election process from day one,” declared Zenawi at a press conference on September 16, 2009. (It baffles the reasonable mind to comprehend a credible election in May 2010 when opposition candidates in 2008 won just three of 3.6 million seats in local and by-elections. But facts and logic play no role in this political drama.) Zenawi has also accused opposition leaders of whipping up passions with inflammatory rhetoric, and charged that unnamed opposition elements were collaborating “covertly and overtly” with Eritrea. When opposition leaders protested the harassment and intimidation they were facing at the hands of the ruling party and complained that over 200,000 monitors appointed for the May “election” are either members or supporters of the ruling party making it impossible to hold free and fair elections, Zenawi blasted them: “These accusations are meant to incite public unrest and violence. I would like to remind you (opposition) that this would result in dire consequences on yourselves.” In the past few months, Zenawi and his spokesmen have repeatedly threatened to arrest and prosecute opposition party leaders who have violated the so-called election code of conduct after the “election” is over.

All of the pre-election wrath and fury signifies two things: 1) intimidation of opposition leaders into permanent silence, and 2) if they insist on speaking up and challenging Zenawi, to set them up for kangaroo court prosecution and imprisonment. The grand plan is now in place and the die cast to round-up opposition leaders and jail them after the “election” regardless of what they do or do not do. It is a question of when, not if.

We have seen this play (farce) staged time and again. They used the same frame-up to re-arrest and jail Birtukan Midekksa, the first female leader of a political party in Ethiopia’s history in December 2009. Zenawi fabricated the most absurd and ridiculous charge one can possibly imagine as a pretext to knock her out of the running in the May 2010 election. He said she had denied receiving a pardon in July, 2007 in a talk she gave in Sweden. She was ordered to retract. A big media buzz was created to stir up anxious anticipation. Then with the precision of a Delta Force commando unit, a horde of security thugs in unmarked vehicles literally snatched Birtukan off the street like some murderous terrorist for the ultimate Hollywood-style dramatic effect. She was immediately thrown into solitary confinement where she remained for six months.

The fact is that Birtukan had never denied receiving a pardon. In Q’ale (My Testimony), her last public statement issued a couple of days before her street side abduction, she made full acknowledgement of receiving a pardon by signing an official document to that effect. The U.S. State Department Human Rights Report (2010) stated that Birtukan “was held in solitary confinement until June [2009], despite a court ruling that indicated it was a violation of her constitutional rights.”

Flashback to November 2005. Zenawi ordered the arrest and imprisonment of nearly the entire opposition leadership, human rights advocates, journalists and civil society leaders. He said they had orchestrated street violence in the post-2005 election period that resulted in hundreds of casualties. He claimed they had incited the use of violence to change the government, the same charge leveled at Prof. Beyene and other opposition leaders:

It’s very obvious now that the opposition tried to change the outcome of the election by unconstitutional means. We felt we had to clamp down. We detained them and we took them to court. In the process, many people died, including policemen. Many of our friends feel that we overreacted. We feel we did not. There is room for criticism nevertheless it does not change the fact that this process was a forward move towards democracy and not a reversal. Recent developments have simply reinforced that. The leaders of the opposition have realised they made a mistake. And they asked for a pardon, and the government has pardoned them all.[1]

The very official Inquiry Commission that Zenawi himself set up to investigate the post-election violence totally and completely exonerated the opposition leaders and the demonstrators of any wrong-doing, and totally and completely pinned the blame on the security forces who were under Zenawi’s direct command and control [2]:

There was no property destroyed. There was not a single protester who was armed with a gun or a hand grenade as reported by the government-controlled media that some of the protesters were armed with guns and bombs. The shots fired by government forces were not to disperse the crowd of protesters but to kill by targeting the head and chest of the protesters.

Of course, Zenawi knew the opposition had nothing to do with any street violence or insurrection in 2005. He had hatched a plan to jail the opposition leaders long before the 2005 election was ever held, as he is doing right now. For instance, on May 6, 2005, nine days before the elections and months before the occurrence of any street demonstrations, Reuters reported that Zenawi had accused opposition leaders of trying to cause a “Rwanda-type genocide” by spreading ethnic hatred and strife, organizing a violent uprisings aimed at overthrowing the government, and treason. Indeed, after opposition leaders were arrested in November 2005, they were charged with genocide, which was dropped after the international legal community and media and unnamed diplomatic sources described the purported evidence of genocide as “laughable”.

Zenawi was pretty candid about how he orchestrated the arrest of the opposition leaders in November 2005. Congressman Christopher Smith, Chairman of House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations recounted a revealing conversation he had with Zenawi in his opening statement at a hearing (H.R. 4423 “Ethiopia Consolidation Act of 2005”) on March 28, 2006 [3]:

During my visit to Addis last August [2005], I met with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, and I asked him why he had not investigated the June shootings of demonstrators by agents of his government. His response was that the investigation might require the arrest of opposition leaders, and he didn’t want to do that while by-elections were still scheduled. He went on to tell me that he had dossiers on all the opposition leaders and could arrest them for treason whenever he wanted. Thus, their arrests were all but certain even before the events that ostensibly led to their being incarcerated.

What we are witnessing today is that same pre-planning that was set in motion in 2005 to swoop down and scoop up the opposition leaders who have challenged Zenawi after the election. For the past weeks, theer has been a barrage of the same types of allegations, accusations and charges made in 2005. When Zenawi says opposition “accusations are meant to incite public unrest and violence,” he is setting them up for a charge of violation of Article 240 (Armed Rising or Civil War). When he says opposition elements are “covertly and overtly” collaborating with certain groups and countries, he is preparing to charge them with violations of Article 248 (High Treason). When Sekoutore, the ruling dictatorship’s spokesperson, declared on April 28 that “Any statements that propagate violence and illegal ways of changing government are banned by the code of conduct,” he is signaling a charge of violation of Article 238 (“Outrages against the Constitution or the Constitutional Order”).

Facts are being fabricated in the Dirty Tricks department of the ruling regime for election day shenanigans to charge the opposition leaders with violations of Article 239 (“Obstruction of the exercise of Constitutional Powers”). There will likely be episodes manufactured between now and “election” day to pin on the opposition allegations of sabotage or terroristic acts in violation of Article 247 (Impairment of the Defensive Power of the State). There is no question whatsoever that opposition leaders will be charged with violations of Article 269 (Genocide) as it can be proven beyond a shadow of doubt that all of them have listened to the Voice of America Amharic Service programs, which according to Zenawi “has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.”

In the last 3 weeks prior to the “election”, we are witnessing a repeat of the 2005 Election Endgame. It is all so obvious. The poor opposition leaders are being set up for the final coup de grace (final blow) as they stand helplessly crying out for democracy and the rule of law.

They ruling dictatorship will crank up the propaganda machine to the max in the next three weeks to fabricate stories that will create a negative public perception of the opposition leaders. The regime will use every trick to put the opposition in false and bad light in the media (while denying them an opportunity to respond to charges and allegations in the ruling party-run state media). They will distort, exaggerate and misrepresent the public statements of opposition leaders. They will ratchet up the general climate of fear, paranoia, anxiety and uncertainty in the country as election-day day approaches. There will be daily talk about threats of violence. There will be arrests of individuals committing violence. There specter of “Shabia” and “Al Shabab” conspiracies will be raised. Just yesterday, it was announced that the regime had arrested 10 members of the Somali Al-Shabab Islamist group and the Oromo Liberation Front as they were allegedly preparing to launch terrorist activities in Ethiopia ahead of the “elections”. There will be reports of mysterious occurrences of explosions in which the “evidence” points to the opposition. Late last week, the ruling regime in a press conference accused Medrek of attempting to kill one of its party members in the Ilan Gelan woreda in the Western Showa Zone of Oromia region. There was a reported fight at Addis Ababa University (AAU) between regime and Medrek supporters resulting in injuries in the last 48 hours.

The regime will seek out any convenient pretexts and excuses to declare a state of emergency beginning at the close of the polls on May 23, just as they did in 2005. Political gatherings of any kind will be prohibited for the months following the “election”. The regime will declare victory on election day before all the votes are counted; and they will stage repeated delays in announcing the official election results in the following weeks to give the impression that meticulous vote counting is being made. And on and on. Of course, all of this is also intended to give the international community early warning of a massive crackdown that will take place, and to prepare them not to “overreact” when the sledgehammer falls on the opposition’s head.

It is all deja vu. We saw this farcical Kangaroo Theatre Production in 2005. When will they open up the “dossiers” on the opposition leaders? When will the sledgehammer fall? When will they scoop them up? May 23? May be the 25th? June 30th? When will they join their leader Birtukan for a long post-election rest and relaxation at the Akaki Hilton Spa and Resort (AHSR) [a/k/a Akaki Federal Prison]?

There is an old prophesy told in the lyrics of a song of African slaves from the harrowing days of slavery in America: “God gave Noah the Rainbow Sign: No more water. The fire next time!”

No Rainbow Sign for Ethiopia in 2010!

Intermission: Act II resumes on May 23, 2010.


Alemayehu G. Mariam, is a professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and an attorney based in Los Angeles. He writes a regular blog on The Huffington Post, and his commentaries appear regularly on,, and other sites.